New Jersey Appellate Court Rules for Defendant Seeking Post-Conviction Relief in Criminal Case Related to DWI

A person convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey can file a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). If successful, this will result in the court reopening the case. Since DWI is a motor vehicle offense instead of a criminal offense under New Jersey law, a petition for PCR is filed in the municipal court that originally heard the case. A PCR petition in a criminal case is filed in the Superior Court, Law Division. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled on an appeal of a denial of PCR in a case involving criminal driving while license suspended (DWLS), which is a charge that can follow a DWI conviction. The court vacated the Law Division’s ruling and sent it back for an evidentiary hearing.

New Jersey DWI convictions result in license suspension, with the length of the suspension depending on several factors. A person with no prior DWI convictions in the past ten years, and whose blood alcohol content was less than 0.10 percent, will receive the shortest period of license suspension, equal to the length of time needed for the person to install an ignition interlock device in their car. The longest license suspension period, eight years, comes with a third DWI conviction within the span of a decade.

In most cases, DWLS is a motor vehicle offense. Penalties may include a fine, a brief jail sentence, revocation of one’s motor vehicle registration, and an extension of the driver’s license suspension. Criminal DWLS occurs when a person drives during a period of license suspension that is the result of:
– A first DWI conviction, and the person has a prior DWLS conviction; or
– A second or subsequent DWI conviction.
A conviction of criminal DWLS carries a mandatory jail sentence of 180 days.

A petition for PCR is not the same as an appeal. PCR is usually available after the time to file an appeal has passed, but the New Jersey Rules of Court limit the grounds on which an individual may ask for PCR. Rule 3:22 addresses PCR in criminal cases, and Rule 7:10-2 deals with PCR for motor vehicle offenses. In either case, a person may seek PCR because:
– The conviction involved a “substantial denial” of the defendant’s constitutional or legal rights;
– The court lacked jurisdiction to impose a judgment of conviction;
– The sentence exceeds or otherwise does not match what the law allows; or
– The conviction is unlawful for other reasons based on the law.

The defendant in the Appellate Division case mentioned earlier had a rather complicated history of DWI convictions and driver’s license suspensions from New York. He did not have a valid license when a police officer stopped him in New Jersey. After pleading guilty, he filed a petition for PCR on several grounds. The court denied it without conducting an evidentiary hearing. The Appellate Division found that this was error. Because New York and New Jersey have different systems for handling driver’s license suspensions and revocations, the trial court should have held a hearing on the PCR petition. The Appellate Division therefore vacated the ruling and remanded the case.

If you are facing charges of alleged DWI in a New Jersey municipal court, DWI lawyer Evan Levow can advise you of your rights and options and answer your questions. Please contact us today at (877) 593-1717 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.

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